03 November 2006

An end to religion

Text of a letter I wrote to the Sunday Herald newspaper in response to an article by Muriel Gray:

I congratulate Muriel Gray for her Enlightened article on the subject of religion. I, along with many others (probably the silent majority in Scotland) agree that it's time for an end to the "religious garbage" with which we are constantly force fed.

I am exasperated that so many 21st Century humans still cling to such misguided and wholly superstitious notions. Let's take the idea of original sin as an example. This is a favourite of the Free Presbyterian miscreants who have so adeptly scarred the minds of generations of my forebears. Original sin holds that you are damned from birth. I'm actually not quite sure at what specific point the damning begins. Is it from conception or is there an implicit damning of the upstart sperm and egg involved in the foul act? Regardless, what a cruel notion this is. To damn a child from birth. Just think about it. How could a child brought up with this belief live with it? Some choose not to.

I have sat through Free Presbyterian funerals and endured the frothing tirades of the "ministers" against the sinning deceased. The deceased is not even granted a name. This particular strand of religious belief has almost died out. I name it and welcome its passing.

Bringing a child up to believe in any form of god is child abuse because it is morally wrong and mentally damaging. State sanction of this through provision of "faith schools" is abhorrent. We should condemn all political parties that shamelessly curry favour with "faith communities" by promising them more of these institutions.

I actually like the the term "Brights" because it is a label that demands a reaction. The religious believe that they are also "enlightened", whereas a "Bright" knows that religion is a cloak of darkness smothering thought and knowledge.

We don't need schools of "Brightness" or "Enlightenism" or whatever we choose to call it; children have an inbuilt brightness and curiosity which we should cherish and foster. What we need is an end to religion, and we can begin the process in Scotland by ending the breeding grounds of intolerance we call faith schools.

06 October 2006


I recently read 'Parallel Worlds' by Michio Kaku. It's a wonderful book which put new and complex images into my head regarding M-theory and multi-dimensional space. I can't comprehend the mathematical side of these subjects but this physicist author has a way of using his words (and a few diagrams) skillfully to create strong mental images of complex scientific ideas.

The book also brought up the subject of entropy, which is a concept I've come across in other books. I find entropy fascinating. It is a measurable variable in physics equations but seems somehow intangible. This is perhaps because it's an idea that people don't really wish to face.

Entropy is a measure of chaos and disorder. Matter can change in ways which increase its entropy. For example burning an old chair turns a functional and 'ordered' piece of matter into a chaotic and disordered cloud of ash and smoke. It's straightforward to accelerate entropy by burning the chair but it's impossible (currently) to reassemble the chair from the resultant ash and smoke. I use the word 'accelerate' rather than 'create' because the chair is already subject to entropy. The current manifestation of the molecules in the chair will degrade over time through 'natural' processes such as rotting but setting fire t0 the chair speeds up the process.

Everyone and everything is subject to entropy, so there can be no absolute 'permanence'. The persistence of a particular material manifestation can only be measured relative to other material manifestations. We don't generally worry too much about our sun using up all its energy, burning Earth to a crisp then fading to a cold cinder, because relative to our short lifespan that era is such a long way off. Relative to the lifespan of the universe our sun's life is an eyeblink.

But entropy doesn't just affect matter. Physics tells us that a measure of entropy is always present. I think that it also affects ideas and relationships. Perhaps there is a kind of memetic entropy where certain memes, even though they have been around for a long time suffering 'natural' wear and tear, reach the threshold point where they can no longer hold their cohesion and seem to dissipate suddenly. Some relationships only last a short time because the individuals involved don't take steps to limit the entropic effects of arguments and discord.

Entropy is a measurable variable within the limits of 'closed' systems. But is hard to define a closed system. There is no doubting the acceleration of entropy caused by the pollution of our planet but our planet may not be a 'closed' system for much longer. That doesn't mean that we should be content to despoil systems beyond our own, just that we are evolving entities that will spread and use ever more energy, accelerating entropy as we go. We will also be increasing intelligence, and we don't know where that will lead us, because we can't conceive it yet.

02 September 2006

Memetic evolution

I'm currently reading 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins. It's 30 years since this book was first published but it is as relevant now as it was when first published, perhaps more so. I decided to read the book not because I am particularly interested in genetics but because there are so many references to it in other books I have read.

Eric Drexler frequently refers to Dawkins' 'meme' idea in 'Engines of Creation.' A meme is, essentially, a cultural 'idea' which becomes established within the consciousness of a certain group of individuals or within society as a whole. Memes can be propagated and perpetuated by various means, including of course the media, and now the internet. Before the media they would have been propagated verbally from person to person, group to person, or whatever. Later memes were propagated through writing. They can be the seed or the basis for entire belief systems, or they can be passing fads. Resilient memes survive in the consciousness of large numbers of people. Weak memes die out. Genes can be seen as 'replicators' and so can memes.

This brings us to the idea of 'memetic evolution'. It can be argued that humans are now beginning to step beyond the bounds of genetic evolution. We can make decisions, using our brains - our genetically evolved thinking apparatus', to defy our genetic programming, by using contraception for example. Memetic evolution allows as to evolve on a different, and much faster, level. We can do this by learning, effectively absorbing knowledge memes. These memes can help to preserve us, as new knowledge in medicine has done, they are 'good' memes and therefore survive and spread. There are also 'bad' memes. For example a meme for group suicide which quickly kills off all carriers of the meme. This would be bad for both the meme and the unfortunate individuals involved. Other bad memes survive and spread because they do not kill their carriers (at least not all of them).

I regard religion as a bad meme. Religion spreads, killing some of its carriers, but keeping plenty more alive to spread the meme. Religion also affects non-carriers by battling good memes containing beneficial information.

Memetic evolution and my definition of extravolution have a lot in common. Memes containing new technological insights spread throughout our planet, bringing us new knowledge which is beneficial to our survival. This process happens within the context of genetic evolution but also beyond it. Extravolution is shaping us at an ever-accelerating rate.

01 September 2006


I listened to a story on the morning news about homeopathy. Apparently labelling is being changed to make it clearer what homeopathic products are and how they should be used. Unfortunately the new labelling will not state "This does not work."

A 'medicine' diluted to the point where it is unlikely that any molecules of the original medicinal ingredient exist in the substance, cannot qualify as a medicine. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the 'effect' of homeopathic medicine to be no greater than placebo.

The feature also pointed out that sales of homeopathic medicines are on the increase. This doesn't surprise me and indeed confirms the unscientific nature of homeopathy. At a time when trust in certain experts is at a low ebb, many people will have a tendency to reject the advice of scientists and make 'individual' decisions to opt instead for quackery. This is a dangerous and illogical meme. Current scientific understanding is a result of cumulative learning and rigorous testing. To reject that understanding is to reject valuable knowledge.

30 August 2006


I have known for a long time now that all superstition is bunk. Many people, however, don't seem to realise that they are superstitious. One cannot have any form of blind faith without being superstitious.

In the past there were reasons for superstitions. The further back in time you go the fewer coherent systems for describing the mysteries of the Earth and sky are available. People invented their own types of descriptive 'systems'. Without a scientific basis for those systems they concocted groups of deities (or individual deities) as primitive ways of explaining their environment and understanding themselves. Most saw their future (and therefore all their actions?) as being governed by 'higher powers'. They were helpless pawns at the mercy of wrathful gods. Do good and you got your reward in the next world. Do ill and you got your punishment. Either way it was out of your control.

Today we have no such excuses. Superstition is infantile. I don't just mean the big stuff like believing in a god but also the small, corrosive superstitions of everyday life. Black cats crossing paths and Friday 13ths, dropped cutlery and subtraversed ladders. All bunk and all inexcusable.

Matter to ponder

A lot has happened since my last post. Not in the physical world but in the way I perceive things. My current focus is on 'extravolutionary' technologies. Particulary nanotech or 'minting'. I have been engrossed in a book called 'Engines of Creation' by K. Eric Drexler, which has helped to open my eyes to the implications of the molecular nature of matter.

Matter is made up of molecules of varying complexity. So if we can manipulate those molecules directly we open up an extraordinary new form of technology which will change us and our environment in ways we are only just beginning to imagine. The molecules in a brick, along with the 'positional information' which determine its molecular stucture, make it a brick. The same is true of a human brain. For us the precise 'positional information' of the molecules in our brains makes us who we are. The patterns 'grown' in our brains throughout our lives, those that define us as individuals, are not fleeting. Does that not mean that they can be preserved, perhaps indefinitely?

The above is, of course, a vast oversimplification. But the key point is that there does not need to be a magic ingredient which makes particular types of matter, such as brains, special. Brains are special because of the unique structures formed between the molecules within them. They are the most complex cohesive structures in the world, perhaps in our universe.

13 April 2006

Other 'volvere' words

I have been thinking about other words which use the Latin root 'volvere' (as in evolution) which could be used to convey a similar sense to 'extravolution'.

There are various listings on Google for 'transvolution'. In many of these instances it has been used in the sense of spirituality or mind development (biological). 'Trans' can mean beyond or across but doesn't quite capture the sense that I am trying to convey with 'extravolution'. In the case of the now widely used word 'transgender' the word 'trans' conveys the sense of 'in between'. Extravolution has begun and is not 'across' or 'in between'.

There is also about one listing on Google for 'supervolution'. This word is a reasonable alternative. The word 'super' means 'above' or 'over'. It could, however, be considered a little pejorative and perhaps doesn't convey the sense of an ongoing but partially separate process.

It's interesting to see the burgeoning recognition of the extravolution process. I am sure this will snowball as people go from vague recognition to startling familiarity with extravolution (or whichever other word becomes the accepted term).

11 April 2006

Killing Joke

Why do I enjoy the music of Killing Joke so much? It feels visceral, like no other music I know. I suppose there are some sounds/chord progressions/melodies which just fit perfectly with ones own brain patterns. As a friend once asked when I was casting about for something new to listen to, "What do your ears like?"

My ears and my brain enjoy Killing Joke.

10 April 2006

Word meets resistance

'Extravolution' is now getting a hard time on Wiktionary. Now it's even being called a 'protologism'. A word which has existed since 1829 can't be a protologism. My definition of it is certainly new but then so is the phenomenon it now describes. Shall we call it a neologistic nonce word? It is what it is.

I know. Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is of value while information is constantly destroyed. But how does one make knowledge?

09 April 2006

Creating a word

I thought of this word a couple of years ago while standing in the shower in a dwam (Scots word for daydreaming). What's happening to humans now through the development of technology isn't exactly part of biological evolution but it is nevertheless evolution. It's somehow beyond that. As 'extraterrestrial' is to 'beyond/outside of earth', so 'extravolution' is to 'beyond/outside of evolution'.

I recently got round to preparing a definition of the word and put it on Wikipedia. The editors there are rather rule-bound and condemned it to deletion as a neologism. It did survive in Wiktionary.

At that time I found that the word existed on Google in only one other place. In an .rtf file written by a Latin scholar. I emailed him to find out where it came from and he told me that it came from an early edition of the Oxford English dictionary but it seemed only to have been defined as the opposite of 'intravolution'.

The word has sound linguistic roots and I have given it a definition. Some people who I have told about this have said that I can't just create/define words. Why not? Must I be an academic to be able to think? Extravolution is a word. I use it and am understood.

Here we go

As the dry-witted Highlander calmly stated as he faced imminent death in the form of his car falling off the edge of a cliff. "Here we go," he said. Another journey? No. He was going to die and that would have been that. Death is always a waste.

I was discussing this with a friend's wife this weekend. She was getting emotional about her gran's death. She was rationalising the old woman's death by saying that she had been somehow ready. Is anyone ever really ready to die? Ill people maybe want to die to alleviate the suffering. Same goes for suicidal people. If you're fit and healthy in mind and body the chances are that you want to live. Preferably forever.